Ethnic Studies Deserves A Try


In its staff editorial "Ethnic Studies Is Not A Discipline" (October 10, 1995), The Crimson staff acknowledges the importance of diverse academic perspectives, yet it fails to recognize that a program in Ethnic Studies would provide those very perspectives in whose absence no meaningful dialogue can flourish. The Academic Affairs Committee is heartened that The Crimson endorses "all attempts to diversify Harvard's faculty," defined in the editorial as "expand[ing] the diversity of academic perspectives within the faculty." However, we take issue with The Crimson's inability "to see where existing departments at Harvard fail in this regard." The current lacking at Harvard of courses in Asian-American, Latino-American, and Native-American Studies clearly represents the exclusion of perspectives that are critical to a rigorous engagement of difference, namely, race and ethnicity.

Ethnic Studies is not a remedial addition of previously excluded perspectives to existing disciplines; instead, it is an interdisciplinary field which, like Afro-American Studies, examines U.S. history and society through the critical lens of race. Given the central role that race has played and continues to play in the histories of Americans in general and ethnic minorities in particular, it is essential that the study of race not be limited to the scope of a black-white paradigm. Expanding the study of race to include the experiences of other racialized minorities, namely Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans and Native-Americans, exposes the paradigm as an incomplete model. Including the study of these particular groups, however, does not exclude the examination of American peoples of European descent. We challenge the assumption inherent in The Crimson's editorial that Ethnic Studies would recreate the exclusionary practices that have historically marked traditional academic scholarship.

We also challenge The Crimson's assumption that true academic arguments are politics-neutral. The Crimson staff finds "something inherently political" in our demand for Ethnic Studies, and we agree. By its very nature, the study of race and ethnicity is political because it challenges the dominant. European body of knowledge that has historically posed as race-neutral and universal. Having acknowledged the inherently political nature of the call for Ethnic Studies, we are quite puzzled by The Crimson's apparent attempt to delegitimize our demands by noting that movements for Ethnic Studies have employed tactics--specifically, hunger strikes, sit-ins, organized protests--that have historically secured "justice when ordinary channels of protest have broken down." We are honored to be considered a part of this tradition, and we hope that our efforts will lead to the establishment of a program in Ethnic Studies. Only then can the Harvard community demonstrate its commitment to the oft-quoted "common pursuit" of academic excellence and diversity. More voices are needed to begin a true dialogue. Veronica S. Jung '97   Julie C. Kim '97   Co-Chairs,   Academic Affairs Committee,   Harvard Foundation for Race and


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